For those who wondered why I missed Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts last week: This time last week, I was back in Penang -- whose capital, George Town, was inscribed onto UNESCO's World Heritage List back in 2008. As many Penangites (including myself) have long thought and maintained however, this Malaysian state's greatest cultural heritage may well be its great food -- specifically that which is served up by hawkers in open air locales or open front kopi tiam (which literally translates from Hokkien to English as coffee shop(s)).
Increasingly, the word seems to be out in the international foodie community -- with the likes of Anthony Bourdain proclaiming that "Penang is the kind of place that ruined me for an ordinary life" (Elaborating further on the Penang episode of No Reservations, he talked about how "It's the condiments here, the chilis. Once you have that, there's no going back.") and The Guardian (via John Brunton) stating that "Penang has the best street food in Asia".
While I was still in Hong Kong, a friend e-mailed to make a suggestion for dinner that Saturday night. (We Penangites are like that. So food obsessed are we that our customary greeting is "Have you eaten yet?"; this phrase used decades -- centuries even -- before "What's cooking?" was used as greeting over in the U.S.!) Specifically, she suggested that we have lok lok (AKA "dip dip" -- because eating lok lok involves the diners dip, dipping and thereby cooking the sticks of food they want to eat into a pot of boiling hot water) at the hawker center that springs to life in the evenings in the vicinity of Pulau Tikus Market.
So last Saturday night saw my friend and I seated at one of those special lok lok tables (whose center houses a boiling hot pot of water) sampling the fare prepared by stall proprietor Ah Seong. (And no, we didn't eat everything on the table -- it was just there for us to choose from! Also, I have to admit to not daring to try the spicier hot sauces on the table and, instead, sticking to a combination of peanut-y satay and sweet hoisin sauces.)
I also couldn't resist some of the other fare being cooked up at other stalls in the hawker center -- and what with it being really hot at the table (as a result of our close proximity to the hot boiling water increasing the area temperature on an already hot equatorial climate evening!), my friend and I also ended up needing to have a couple of non-alcoholic drinks each.
If truth be told, this kind of dining arrangement seems like it would be far more suitable for cooler weather and colder climates. But I guess it fits in with the line of thinking that perspiring helps cool one down! In any case, if the food is tasty and the company cool (or hot? ;b), then people don't seem to mind -- and do enjoy -- the lok lok experience on offer in many parts of Penang. Indeed, so popular is this dining option that tables often have to be shared with complete strangers -- and rather than minding, hey, it may just add to the overall communal dining out experience! :)
Addendum: Eck! I just realized that this week's theme for Gattina's Photo Hunt is fashion, and cooking was last week's! Too late now to change though... so consider me finally putting up an entry for last week's theme chosen by Gattina along with this week's theme chosen by Sandi! ;(